brian j plachta
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by brian j plachta on January 4th, 2019

​Why do we do it? Why do we nag and criticize ourselves? Why do we launch scud missiles of negative words and thoughts against our self-images?
Perfectionism is one reason. We expect ourselves to be perfect, and when we aren’t, we shame ourselves. We dig trenches of negativity that tell us we’re bad. Flawed. Broken. We commit treason against our inherent goodness. 
Driving ourselves to achieve, to be good, and to become better is a good thing. It allows us to set and reach goals, to pursue our dreams, and to make the world a better place. But that drive can become imbalanced when it over tilts into egotistical, shameful, or never-good-enough attitudes. 
What if, when we catch ourselves launching a negativity attack against our self-images, we stop, and instead name one good character trait we possess, one quality we like about ourselves? Reminding ourselves we’re good, teachable, and loveable might be a simple practice that will help turn off the negativity switch in our heads. 
By adopting the practice of affirming and accepting ourselves, we purposely lower the unattainable bar of perfectionism. We allow ourselves to be perfectly human. 
Perfectly human means we will make mistakes, and when we do, we’ll admit them and learn from them. It means loving ourselves unconditionally, adopting the image and likeness with which God created us—good, loving, connected to his Holy Spirit by the Inner Light that dwells within our hearts. 
If we were perfect, we wouldn’t need the Divine. We’d be God. But we’re not—and neither are we supposed to be. Our job is to be perfectly human. Good, messy, and teachable. We’re the human part of the Divine Team, with whom the Creator invites to co-create more love in the world.
When we make peace with our internal wars and accept all parts of ourselves without judgment, we create more space for God to love us, for us to love ourselves, and then for us to become multipliers of unconditional love for others. 
Stop the inner war. Pick up instead the plowshare of self-acceptance. Affirm your humble goodness and allow yourself to be perfectly human. 
—brian j plachta


by brian j plachta on December 29th, 2018

Have you ever noticed there’s an on-going story you subconsciously tell yourself? There’s a theme you script in your head about who you are, where you’re headed, and how life is treating you?
It’s important to occasionally stop and check out the story we tell ourselves, since what we think drives who we become. 
Sometimes the story that rumbles around our heads is filled with drama. “I’m a victim who’s suffered a lot and never gets a break,” is one whiny tale we jeer.
“I’m awesome, and people need to know it,” is a fairytale we might write. 
The most common story is some version of “I’m a bad person”—which serves only to make us feel worse because we come to believe we never measure up. 
And finally, there’s the “I know this pony ride’s going to come to an end soon” story—which causes us to self-sabotage. 
Most of these stories are untrue—or, at the least, exaggerated. They’re based upon fear.
Maybe a better story we could tell ourselves is the one God’s already written for us—we’re heroes created to multiply love in the world. 
A hero is a humble, ordinary person who:
  • Helps those in need;
  • Empowers the weak through our strengths; and 
  • Walks alongside others as an encourager and friend. 
Perhaps God sees us as heroes because that’s how he fashioned us. Before we were conceived, the Creator decided the world needed us. The tapestry of the universe wouldn’t be complete without you and me and the unique talents we bring to the world. And our purpose for being here is to multiply love in our own special way to make the universe a better place.  
Maybe that’s the story we need to find the courage to embrace—the one that embodies self-love and acceptance. The story that affirms the truth—we are good. We are heroes.
We’ve been given a book with empty pages with which to write each chapter of our lives. What would be the title of your life’s book? What wisdom have you learned and wish to pass on to others? What unique gifts do you have to make the world a better place? H
ow do you want your story to unfold? 
As we enter a new year, carefully tend the narrative you create about yourself throughout each day. Each thought adds to the book of your life.
What story do you want to tell yourself so you become fully alive? Can you be the hero of your story?
—brian j plachta


by brian j plachta on December 21st, 2018

I wonder why God revealed himself in the flesh of a newborn baby? Why did he choose a vulnerable infant to unite Divinity with humanity?  
Perhaps it’s because everyone loves babies. They’re cute and innocent. They fill us with joy. So, God chose the non-threatening beauty of a child to show us how much he loves us.
But there’s another part of the Christmas message.  By uniting Divine Love with human flesh, God invites us to embody his Presence—to become not God, but the embodiment of God’s love through the story of our lives. 
We might forget that part of Christmas Wisdom if we stop at the manger and simply adore the Christ child. Adoring God is good. But, God placed his seed of Divinity into the egg of humanity and birthed a human being to make love tangible—God with skin—through the arms, legs, voice, and touch of a human we call his Son. And now, having joined Divine Spirit with human flesh, God recreates himself in every human person.
What if we flipped the Christmas story and we became the ones lying in the manger? If we’re the ones resting in the stable of God’s Divinity? If we’re asleep as God gazes upon us, marveling at the beauty created by joining Divine Spirit with our human flesh?
Try it. Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine you’re lying in the manger. You’re nestled safe and warm in the straw as God caresses your skin. You’re wrapped in swaddling clothes silkened with Divine Love.  Allow yourself to be picked up and held in the Creator’s strong arms—to feel your heart beating against his chest, your human face brushing his Divine Skin.  Hear the God who created you whisper silently in your ear, “I love you. You are good.” 
Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio calls this Christmas message Radical Incarnation.
Radical because it goes to the root of why God chose to incarnate his Spirit of Divine Love in us. It’s mind-blowing. Awesome. Possible.
We’ve been gifted not only with the ability, but also the responsibility, of being part of God’s unfolding love in the world. We’re called to multiply love through the tapestry of our lives. 

When we flip the story and allow ourselves to imagine we’re lying in the manger, everything changes. Suddenly, we’re wrapped in God’s love. We’re swaddled with the Wisdom he desires to whisper to our hearts. And then, like Christ, we’re called to leave the manger and co-create love with our hands, our feet, our skin, and our hearts. 
We are the Incarnation of Christ. Not God, but part of God’s Divine Plan to fashion everything, everyone, with love, and continue to create the miracle of love throughout the Universe.
And when the burden of life gets hard, when we forget who we are, when we fill with fear and fall into survival mode, we can go back to the stable of Solitude, lie quietly in the manger of God’s Presence, and let the Creator breathe his life back into us so we can incarnate—embody with flesh—his love in the world. 
This Christmas, let your imagination go free. Envision you’re lying in the manger. Let God continue to birth you with Divine Love and Wisdom. Let the Presence of Christ flow in and through you as you become God’s loving present to the world. 

—brian j plachta


by brian j plachta on December 16th, 2018

Have you experienced moments when everything feels right? The pieces of life’s puzzle fit? You feel safe. Content. At peace.

“What’s this feeling?” We might ask ourselves.  “I’m used to worrying about something or someone, being angry at this or that, or striving to get here or there. But right now, I feel calm, whole, filled with love and compassion for myself and others.” 

That feeling is joy.  Life is good and so are you. 

There are no mountains to climb; no ditches to dig. You’re happy. All your inner work—your willingness to grow and let go—has paid off, and the fruit of your labor is pure and simple joy.

Stop and notice joy. Name it. Inhale it. Savor it.

Learn how it feels in your body. Then open your heart wide with gratitude to the Creator. And smile. The joy of the Lord is yours. 
—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on December 4th, 2018

​As we move full steam ahead into the Christmas season, do you feel torn between two worlds—the secular world, which tugs at us to hurry up, push harder, and jam pack more into the weeks before Christmas—and the spiritual world which invites us to slow down, reflect, and prepare our hearts for the celebration of God’s self-revelation through human flesh? 
I bet Mary found herself in those two worlds. As she went about her daily chores helping her mom and dad, excited about her upcoming wedding, an angel appeared and told her she was pregnant with the Savior of the World. Those in the secular world (and I bet her parents at first) were probably angry at Mary. “What do you mean you’re pregnant? Do you realize Jewish law requires that unwed mothers be stoned?”
But somehow, Mary stepped into the spiritual world. She pondered. She listened deeply, contemplated, and eventually got to the place in her heart where she told God, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” 
And what about Joseph? He was probably just as excited about his upcoming wedding and his new life as a married man. And out of the blue, Mary zapped him with the news she was pregnant. 
“Seriously?” I imagine he said. “Did you? How’d you? This can’t be. You’ve brought shame to my family. I must break our engagement—and you’d better leave town before the villagers find out and stone you.”  
How did Joseph move from wanting to quietly divorce Mary to trusting they were part of God’s divine plan?
The common thread, the story that’s hidden in Mary and Joseph’s lives is the gift of solitude, contemplation. We don’t see it emphasized in scripture, but I have to believe both Mary and Joseph took time each day to remove themselves from the noise of the secular world to ponder and ask God in the silence of their hearts for wisdom to know—and then the courage to do—what God asked of them.

According to Saint Teresa of Avila, contemplation is the daily practice of taking time for solitude, silence, and interior prayer. It’s the pathway to inner peace. It allows each person to experience God directly and to cultivate the interior connection between one’s Soul and the Divine.

Thomas Merton wrote that not all are called to be hermits. Unless we’re monks living in desert caves, we too live in both the secular and spiritual worlds. And maybe the key to living in both successfully is taking time each day to be in God’s presence---to have enough silence and solitude in our lives to enable the deeper voice of our own self to be heard.
Perhaps Mary, Joseph, Saint Teresa, and Merton are pointing us to the hidden gift of Christmas—spending time alone each day with God to talk and listen with him, to figure out where and how he’s leading us, and to realize God is with us—always. 
What if preparing our hearts for Christ wasn’t something we do only in December? What if it were a spiritual practice we adopted by spending time every day in solitude? 
What if saying yes to God’s invitation for daily contemplation is our gift to the Creator?  
---brian j plachta


by brian j plachta on December 2nd, 2018

“One more, Daddy! One more!” my five-year old often shouted at snack time when he wanted another Oreo cookie—not satisfied with the six he’d just chomped down.
Why is it that no matter how blessed we are in life, no matter how many Oreo cookies we get, we want more? More leisure time, a better body, a bigger car, a higher salary? The list is endless. And it seems as soon as we get something we’ve wanted, we want something else.

We’re filled with desires. And while chasing and clinging to too many desires can prove disastrous, maybe our desires have a positive flavor to them. 
According to Jesuit priest, Phillip Sheldrake, in his book, Befriending Our Desires, “Desire is at the heart of what it is to be human. The power of desire, while embodied and sensuous, is God-given and the key to all human spirituality. Humanity is blessed with a deep longing that is infinite in extent and can only ultimately be satisfied in God.” 
There’s an intimate connection, Sheldrake explains, between desire and the spiritual journey. Desire shows up as a positive virtue in both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Spiritual classics, poetry, and other literature often explore the role of desire in relation to God, prayer, sexuality, making choices, and responding to change.
Desire is much deeper than pleasure. Pleasure is a response to a short-lived experience that often satisfies our senses. A nice bowl of Triple Peanut Butter Cup ice cream brings my middle-aged belly pleasure. But as soon as I’m done licking the spoon, I’m on to what’s next?
Desire is longer lasting. It goes to the heart. It seeks wisdom.
I desire a loving and lasting relationship with my spouse, my children, and a couple of good buddies. And when I experience the gift of those relationships, I feel an inner warmth, a sense of contentment that leads to continual gratitude. 
Maybe then, desire is a good thing—if we learn how to focus it. When faced with a life choice, asking ourselves the question, “What’s my deepest desire?” might be the inner compass that helps us navigate life. 
What if, in a fight with a loved one, rather than responding with blame and anger, we paused for a moment and asked ourselves, “What’s my deepest desire right now?” That simple question might invite us to refocus. In asking it, we might find the words and wisdom to love and forgive. We might articulate our needs and those of our loved one so we can negotiate a solution that works for both of us—a solution that’s life-giving for all.
Sheldrake invites us to embrace a Spirituality of Desire. He writes, “Our desires imply a condition of incompleteness because they speak to us of what we are not or what we do not have. Desire is also, therefore, a condition of openness to possibility and future.
“Being people of desire implies a process of continually choosing. Desire is the condition for discerning what our choices are and then choosing from within the self rather than according to extrinsic demands. Discernment may be thought of as a journey through desires—a process whereby we move from a multitude of desires, or from surface desires, to our deepest desire, which contains all that is true and vital about ourselves.” 
The problem, Sheldrake says, is we are not awake to what true desire is. We mask it by wanting more chocolate or possessions, none of which are bad in moderation, but which fail to identify that what we want at our core is God—the experience of being loved and guided by the One who knows us better than we know ourselves.  
Perhaps, then, a Spirituality of Desire is vital to our inner growth, since it’s only by attending to desires that we encounter our deepest self, the image of God within. Desire draws us like an umbilical cord to the heart of God, and from that place we discover who we are and how we can be a source of greater love in the world. 

As you experience wanting someone or something more, take a moment to notice that nudge, then seek desire’s wisdom by pausing and pondering, “What’s my deepest desire?”  
Let that question light a loving path for yourself, God, and others. Befriend your heart’s deepest desire.
—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on November 24th, 2018

“Who are you emailing now?” my wife asked as we sat down for dinner.
“Just keeping up with work,” I replied, guilt smeared across my face. 
“Do you ever put that thing down?” 
“Hi. My name is Brian. I’m a cellphone addict.” I was joking, but after I reflected more seriously, I realized I am addicted to my cellphone.
According to a recent study, the typical cellphone user touches their phone 2,617 times every day. And that’s just the average user. Extreme cellphone users (meaning the top 10%) touch their phones over 5,400 times daily.
Apple also recently confirmed device-users unlock their phones 80 times every day. That’s 6 to 7 times every waking hour.
The takeaway from these studies is that while smartphones are an important part of our lives, if we don’t set healthy boundaries, their effects can be detrimental. Anxiety, high blood pressure, depression, sleep disorders, inability to focus, and reduced peace of mind are just some of the negative side effects smartphone addiction and obsessive social media activity can cause.

Here’s a list of behaviors that point to an imbalance of cellphone and social media use:

·      An incessant need to tap and touch our phone.

·      Envy generated by the social media posts of other people.

·      A need to post constant social media updates about ourselves.

·      Withdrawal symptoms when our phone is lost or isn’t around.

·      Anxiety due to a sense of loss of control when our phone isn’t working.

·      Obsessively reaching out for our phones to look for new notifications and messages.

·      Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) if we don’t keep current with recent updates and posts. 

·       Counting the number of likes we get on our social media posts as a measure of our self-worth.

·       Excessive use of online games and apps to distract us from important tasks and social interaction. 
The overuse of technology has become so invasive that researchers have developed several cellphone addiction tests to evaluate whether our use is out of control. There are also downloadable apps, like Moment, that assess how much time we spend staring at our little screens.

Technology is neutral by nature. It’s how we use it that makes the difference. If we overuse it or distract ourselves with it, negative consequences can result. If we use it in moderation to empower our lives and keep us connected with others, it enhances life.
For those of us with cellphone and social media obsession, there are several practical ways we can get our technology use back in balance. Here’s a few worth considering to increase well-being and reduce anxiety:

  • Don’t check your phone during the first two hours after waking up. Instead, spend the first moments of your day meditating, taking a walk, or making a gratitude list. Do something that’s more life-giving than staring at an electronic screen. 

  • Instead of distracting yourself with mindless game apps, pick up a good book. Read something that inspires you, deepens your wisdom, and leads to inner growth.

  • Switch all devices off 60 minutes before sleeping to have better quality sleep. 

  • Set designated times to check your notifications and messages during the day, such as once every couple of hours.Do a technology detox periodically by fasting from your phone for a day or two.

  • Have cellphone-free hours during the day so you won’t be anxious when your phone isn’t around. 
Honestly asking ourselves if we’re addicted to our cellphones can lead us to drop negative behaviors and develop healthier, more balanced use. It returns to us control over technology, so we avoid becoming cellphone addicts. 

Be honest. Are you addicted to your cellphone?
—brian j plachta


by brian j plachta on November 17th, 2018

There’s a new television series called, “God Friended Me.” It’s an uplifting show about an atheist whose life is turned upside down when he receives a Facebook friend request from God. The weekly plot is a modern twist on the ancient question, “Is God real?”
I used to think lightning bolts would crash down upon me if I asked that question. But, as I’ve aged, I’ve realized there’s a holy tension between doubt and faith, and asking the question occasionally is an important part of coming to a deeper understanding about what we believe. 
Years ago, I wrestled like Jacob with whether I believed God is real or just a figment of my imagination. I told my wife I was going to spend the night in our pop-up camper parked in the driveway, and wasn’t coming out until I resolved the question.
Around midnight, I had a conversation with God. It went something like this:
         Me:  God, are you real?
         God: Seriously? Do we have to go down that road again? Okay. Let’s start by my asking you a few questions.
         Who created the sun and the moon and the stars that awe you? 
         Me: You, I’d guess.
         God: And the dog that loves you unconditionally—is he real?
          Me: Yes. But God, I can’t touch you or see you face-to-face like I can my dog. So, how do I know you’re real?
          God: Let me explain. Billions of years ago, I poured my Spirit of Love into matter. I became the Divine Artist and weaved my Infinite Generosity—the abundance of my love—into the tapestry of physical form. 
          I created people, plants, and animals. I wove my love into the tangible universe. 
         Whenever you see or experience love, you know I’m real, because I created the love that pours itself into the universe, into the physical world. And I communicate with you through the love and wisdom I place in your heart.
          Realize, you can’t know me solely by thinking. I am beyond human comprehension. But, you can know me by experiencing and loving.
As I pondered these words, the tent canvas didn’t part like the Red Sea. An angel didn’t appear.  A flash of lightening didn’t strike.  
Instead, as I gazed out the camper window, the Big Dipper cascaded its brilliance across the night sky filling me with awe. Orion’s Belt called me to deep wonder. Something or someone had to have created all this magnificence.
In that moment, there was a simple knowingthat rose up in my heart. The ordinary became extraordinary. I experienced the love of the Creator who splashed beauty across the black night sky as if he were saying, “I love you. I delight in you, and I painted this sky for you and all my creation.”
Just then, I heard God whisper in my heart, “Come on man. It’s me. Stop trying to understand it all.  Just receive it.” 
“I call you Beautiful,” God continued. “And you, what do you call me?”
I smiled, touched my hand to my heart, and whispered back, “Real.”
—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on November 9th, 2018

“How do I survive life’s busyness?” is a chief complaint year-round, but one that can overwhelm us, especially during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. It seems the joy that’s supposed to fill these months gets robbed by increased demands of shopping, preparing holiday meals, and hosting office parties. 
Maybe refocusing the question might help ease the holiday tension by asking instead:

“How do I find the Presence of God in the midst of life’s busyness?”
Brother Lawrence, a 17thcentury monk, raised this question when he entered the monastery. Lawrence hoped his days would be filled with quiet prayer, thinking solitude would connect him to God and provide an extra dose of peace. His hopes were dashed, however, when the Abbot assigned Lawrence the tasks of head cook. 
Lawrence realized God’s Presence could be felt not only in the morning solitude he enjoyed, but also during the active part of his day. So, Lawrence developed a shortcut to God. As he went about his chores, Lawrence conversed with God, not only talking but also listening. 
Lawrence called this habit “practicing the presence of God.” 
When my wife and I were raising four children and building our careers, I’d get up before the clamor of the day to spend time in meditation. But my wife dashed out of bed when the alarm clock rang, jumped into the shower, and then rushed into daily tasks. 
One day I asked her, “Don’t you think it would be better if you got up before the kids and spent time talking with God?”  
Her response surprised me. 
“I talk to God all day long. It begins in the shower when I ask him for strength. It continues as I’m cooking breakfast when I thank him for you and the children. And it continues in the car, as I leave the radio off and listen for what God might want to say to me. At the end of the day, I listen and often hear God say he loves me.”
My wife was practicing the Presence of God. Her heart led her to discover the short-cut Lawrence had found—conversing with God throughout the day like old friends. 
Now that we’re empty nesters, my wife has added morning quiet time to her daily routine. While I still get up early to meditate, I’ve also adopted her practice. I talk to God in the shower and in the car. When I notice ordinary things like my wife and children’s beauty, I thank the God who makes abundance real. I’ve discovered God is present both in morning solitude and in the day’s activity.
God is like a dear friend who accompanies us throughout the day—someone we can talk with, share our fears and gratitude with, and gain wisdom from to guide us on life’s journey.
As we enter the holiday season, consider adopting Lawrence’s shortcut to God.  Take time in the morning to sit quietly with the Creator.  As you move into the active part of your day, continue your conversation with him. See if practicing the Presence of God leads you to deeper peace—the peace that surpasses understanding.  
—brian j plachta

This reflection was featured in Faith Magazine. Check it out.

by brian j plachta on November 4th, 2018

Why are more people these days meditating, practicing yoga, and becoming intentional about creating space for quiet and solitude? The answer? They’re seeking inner peace, leaving the noisy world behind for a few moments to reconnect with themselves and their souls. 
Modern spiritual teachers Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, and Richard Rohr all suggest that the secret to finding balance in life is setting aside daily time to be still. Whether you call it meditation, contemplation, centering prayer, or some other practice such as walking in nature, we all need to find the balance between the active and contemplative parts of our lives.
If we want inner peace, we need to strike the balance between Beingand Doing. 
Beingmeans it’s okay to sit in solitude in front of a glowing candle and stare at the flame for 10-20 minutes. Nothing has to happen in that space. We’re simply present to ourselves and the Creator. Absorbed in the flickering light, we rest in the quiet, allowing it to calm us, hold us, and touch our lives.
As we sit in stillness, our thoughts often ricochet through our brains. When they do, gently repeating a calming word or phrase allows our minds and bodies to settle back into the peaceful quiet. We might then tuck that word or phrase into our hearts to carry with us into the day. 
Beingreminds us of who we are—humans grounded in love—and from that natural state of Beingwe then move into the Doingpart of our day.
Having grounded ourselves through a daily meditation practice, ourDoingbecomes more balanced and centered. We develop deeper patience, compassion, and wisdom—virtues beyond belief. And when the day gets chaotic, we can return to Beingby taking a short break and re-centering ourselves with a few moments of silence.
Give yourself the gift of inner peace and balance by setting aside 10-20 minutes daily for solitude. Stare at a flame. Gaze at the sunrise. Feel your breath cascade through your lungs. Whatever feels comfortable during your time of Being,let it become life-giving for you.
Let your time in meditation rebalance your Being& Doing.
—brian j plachta

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